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Hire Smarter with Social Media

A recession might seem like good news for employers looking to hire: with unemployment rates up, you've got more people to choose from and the opportunity to hire at a lower price.

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While the current economic situation might make this a great time for you to expand your team, it can actually make hiring more expensive. Post a job ad and you're likely to be swamped with potential applicants; and if budget is tight on your end, you've probably got limited capacity to screen a large pool.

Social media can help you focus your recruitment efforts to get great results in any economic climate. Here's how you can use social media tools to make the most of your next hire:

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Reaching potential applicants

If you want to attract a thousand applicants so you can spend a week reviewing résumés, go ahead and post on Monster. To make efficient use of your time and attention, reach out through the social networks you and your employees already use, and through the online channels that reach your key audiences. Your online networks are likely to skew young, reaching applicants who might not hear of a job through traditional channels, and if you encourage people to forward, blog about, and tweet your postings, you can extend your reach into specific communities (e.g. minority groups, young women) who may be under-represented in your firm.

Post your job on your Facebook page or as a status update. Tweet the URL of your posting; people love to retweet job ads, so you're likely to get lots of free PR as your URL gets forwarded.

Finally, post your job on your own blog, and send the posting to leading bloggers who cover your industry, and to bloggers for communities you want to recruit into your company.

Screening applicants

Online tools can support your screening efforts by asking applicants to provide their details in a structure that is easy for you to review, by giving you a window on your shortlist before you even meet, and by enabling effective collaboration during the interview process.

Wufoo lets you create online forms that you can embed in your own web site, and gives you great behind-the-scenes tools for tracking and annotating incoming applications. For each kind of skill or experience you're seeking, ask applicants to provide at least one specific example of relevant work history. Empty boxes—or examples that really stretch the definition of relevance—will make it easy to identify qualified applicants.

Once you have a shortlist, don't just google them; look them up on Technorati (to find their blog posts or comments), Twitter and Facebook. Don't rule someone out just because they once posted a drunken picture; you'll quickly rule out most hires under age 30. Look for patterns of good or bad judgement; an upbeat or a complaining personality; writing style and issue knowledge; and most crucially, positive or negative comments from other people who talk about them.

Validating your choice

Once you've got a preferred candidate or a couple of top contenders, it's time to do your due diligence. That means giving your candidate an even more thorough review, and just as important, giving them a chance to get to know you and assess the potential fit.

When you're getting to know a potential hire online, you need to strike a balance between respecting your employees' privacy and doing your due diligence. Asking for the passwords to someone else's online accounts is a no-no; asking to see them online as they are visible to others is just good sense. You can strike a balance by asking prospects to friend you for a limited time (24 or 48 hours) on any social network where they're personally identifiable, so you can see how they present themselves online and make sure there aren't any examples of bad judgement or online comments that could come back to haunt you (for example, griping about one of your clients). Once you've had a look, it's appropriate for your prospects to un-friend you so that they can have a personal life online and outside of work.

If your prospects aren't comfortable sharing their personal profile with you, talk with them about your specific concerns—for example, have they ever written something about one of your clients' products?—and don't insist on access unless their online profile is germane to their work with you (for example, if they are going to be managing your social media presence).

Finally, a test assignment is a great way to assess a prospect's skills. One of our favorites: asking for a summary of our own company's online reputation. This gives us a snapshot of our applicants' research, analytic and writing skills, and gives the applicant a chance to find out what other people say about our team and our work. If your company attracts positive attention online, this assignment will also strengthen your hiring position by making your applicant eager to work for such a well-respected organization.

Social media can't guarantee a great hire. But the smart use of online collaboration and social networks can help you make effective use of your key resources—your time and your employees' wisdom—so that you recruit the very best from today's applicant pool.